It’s very difficult to put into words the intense pain my heart feels and grief for my precious cat son, Leo. A week ago today, Leo took his last, sacred breaths on this earth while lying in my lap in the back seat of our car.
A little over 14 years ago, I dreamt the sweetest dream of my life. I was very pregnant and rushed to the hospital by my mom. Lying on the hospital bed and heavily breathing, a nurse came into the room and coached me while I held my mom’s hand. The next scene consisted of the nurse, wearing all white, walking back into the room with a swaddled blanket. Smiling, she stepped by my bedside and the dream focused in on what was in the blanket- two tiny black and white tuxedo cats with a bright light over them! I had given birth to twin cat sons!
After the dream, my heart longed for “my babies.” I was still dealing with the sudden death of my dad and hadn’t been the same person since. But the dream gave me hope. A need to exist again. Two weeks later, my brother’s dog disappeared. Taking our mom with him, he ventured to the pound. He not only found his dog, but he also came out and announced to my mom that he had “rescued every cat there.” My 21st birthday was approaching, and he had a surprise for me.
Funny how I knew Leo (Leonardo da Vinci) and twin brother, Pablo (Pablo Picasso), before we ever met. I wonder if they saw me. For the two weeks after my dream I felt them, longed for them, hoped for them. They were/are my little boys, and God knew I needed them. He used my brother to deliver my angels to me. Tiny and only 4 wks old, I bottle fed them and my whole world changed. The grief I had been dealing with for 4 years from the death of my dad suddenly began to heal. The happiness that filled my heart in its place came straight from the two little princes I snuggled with for hours each day.
We went through so much together and everything was alright as long as I had Leo by my side. In March of this year, he began drooling. Thinking it was one of many tooth/gum infections he had been treated for for about 6 years, I took him to the doctor. Another round of antibiotics later, Leo continued to drool. For 6 wks I took him back to his PCP, 1-2 times per week, and he was interchangeably given antibiotics and steroids. But nothing stopped the drooling. Leo stopped eating the last weekend of April, and I rushed him to the vet that Monday morning. So many times the vet had opened his mouth to find nothing until May 1, 2019. On that dreadful day, the ulceration burst through the top of his tongue that had been quietly lurking underneath.
Even though the vet said it had to be oral squamous cell carcinoma, my mind would not accept it. I demanded a referral to an oncologist and got Leo in the following day. After assessment, she too agreed with the grim diagnosis, but I still could not believe it. The specialist placed an esophageal feeding tube that evening and began treatment, but my doubts and hopes wouldn’t allow me to settle and I decided to journey the road of second opinions with my precious boy.
We traveled 3hrs away to Atlanta and then 2 hrs away to Knoxville not to mention all of the local opinions in between. No biopsy had been done, so I clung to the small glimmer of hope that it could be some terrible other disease with a less tragic prognosis. Hours of researching these specialists only led to tears of anguish as most of them said there was nothing to be done. The origination of the tumor made it inoperable and chemotherapy and radiation proved little efficacy that would only result in quick, aggressive re-growth after completed.
I elected to do everything I could to take care of my little Leo naturally along with prayer and fasting. Antibiotics, holistic care, pain management- everything with high nutrition food down his esophageal tube. He had to have it replaced a few times and decided twice it needed to come out, to my shock, and each of these two times Leo began eating by mouth again for 3 weeks until he couldn’t anymore. Both of those times, my heart overflowed with gratitude only to be broken again when the cancer began to flare and Leo, sadly, could only look at the food bowl and wish for what he once could do.
Only a couple months ago, did I finally request an official biopsy while Leo was again having his e-tube replaced to try to accept what all of the professionals had told me. Even after it came back confirmed, I struggled with wrapping my head around what was to come. The doctors were baffled that Leo looked as well as he did and the ease with which he took his tube feedings. His activity level was high and he loved walking outside in the warm sun. He was the absolute best patient ever. I swear to God in Heaven I don’t know how he did all that he did with such grace. For me. Our love is still so strong that I can hardly breathe when I think of us being separated. I can’t stand it. We did so much these last few months and Leo learned that he enjoyed riding in my lap in the car and driving through Mrs. Winner’s. Even when he could technically not eat, he would pick up chicken from the box and lavish shredding it to pieces in our room. I found chicken for days strolled across the floor!
His kidneys began to feel the effects of meds and cancer progression, and he purred and looked at me so lovingly the whole time I administered sub-q fluids to him 3 times per week while he watched his “cat tv” filled with happy birds and playful squirrels. In those moments, I longed to take his place and knew I would give my life for him in a heartbeat if only I could.
Last Monday, we rode to the vet together for the final time. His labs were better and the staff and I had hopes he would be able to pull through surgery to place a g-tube. Leo began vomiting a few weeks ago with feedings and the vet believed, as I did, that the cancer was progressing down his little throat and the tube was only further irritating the area. Leo tried to be so still during his decreased feedings but when he could hold it in no longer, he would run down the steps from his bed to hang his head over his litter box and vomit! All so I would not have to clean it up. Leo was far more than just a little cat.
He made it through surgery well and, oh, the joy and hope I felt when I went to see him that evening and he raised his pretty face to mine and we held each other! The doctor even checked on Leo late that night and sent a video of how he was “talking” and waking so well. But the text I woke to the next morning said Leo had crashed during the night and was now on oxygen for difficulty breathing. I went to see him every 2-3 hrs that day and slowly started his feedings in hopes of reviving him. Each time Leo tried to talk but couldn’t and only got weaker. It was decided he would have a blood transfusion and the doctor brought in his donor cat, God bless him. Being an RN, the staff and I decided I would bring Leo home that evening so I could watch him 24/7 and administer his IV fluids, meds, feedings, and oxygen throughout the night. His blood sugar went from 533 that morning to 40 when I picked him up but still I held on to hope.
My mom began yelling that Leo couldn’t breathe. I pulled over, got in the back seat with him, and repositioned him the best way I could. He was struggling so but then suddenly lay his precious head in my lap, looked and me straight in the eyes, and completely calmed. He almost took on the look of a youthful kitten again. Thinking him being able to see me had helped, my mom proceeded to drive to my work so I could get an oxygen tank for him. When I stepped out of the car, however, his precious head was limp and I realized what I thought was him calming had actually been him passing. Shock. Pain. Panic. My nursing skills went out the window as I tried to remember how to do CPR as I would on a baby compensating for his small size, and my mom rushed back to the vet. I called and the angelic doctor and his son waited on us anxiously before pulling him from the car and trying for over 2 hrs to resuscitate him. I couldn’t let him go. Oh God! My mind was a blur.
I held Leo’s body all night wrapped in my robe and mourned worse than when I lost my dad at 17. Still, I couldn’t accept what had happened in front of my very eyes because I cannot wrap my head around being without him. I pray Leo comes back to me one day and we are somehow reunited. A part of me died the next day when my daughter, a friend, and I lowered his beautiful satin white casket in the ground. My heart is physically in severe pain. I can barely function. Prayers are more than appreciated. I need my Leo so bad.
To Lee-lee- I will love you forever, my precious son. Your sister and twin brother, and best cat friend, Tiger, and I are grieving for you so. You will be one of the first ones I seek out when I get to Heaven. The pain is unbearable.
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